Well, here we are. Through no fault of our own we’ve landed in a new year. And you know what that means. Lots of weight loss chatter; TV, Internet, social media. Lots of good intentions and heaps of pressure to lose weight, or get in shape or somehow change ourselves. Too much chatter. Too many messages. We’re already sick of it. Nostalgic memories of all those Christmas goodies haunt us like the ghost of Christmas past because they have been banned from the kitchen. And we miss them.
Let me tell you right up front something strange happened to me this year. I began 2017 with an orthopedic boot on my leg from a double spiral ankle fracture, and more than a few extra pounds on my frame. I’d like to blame all my extra weight on my ankle injury, but honestly it’d been creeping on for years. From stress, from age, from life. Today, at the start of 2018, I sit here more than 25 pounds lighter. I lost the weight. With God’s help, I lost the weight.
Some of you are about to decide to stop reading. I just lost you. I know it. And with tenderness I say I’m sorry and I understand. I don’t really want to talk about my weight loss, because just reading those words has caused some of you pain, or frustration, or maybe annoyance. And I hate that. They would’ve caused me pain a year ago. So, I’m not going to tell you my program, or what I did or didn’t eat. There will be no meal plans or recipes. I’m not a doctor. I don’t want to share medical advice. But I’m eager to share words of encouragement, courage, and peace. We are tough women. We do hard things. But that private place where our body image and our failed achievements intersect is the rawest of spots. One study on shame I read revealed 90% of us are unhappy with our body image. 90%. Think of your Bible study, or book club, or any group with 10 women. Only one of them would not be counted. We are not alone in our shame.
Some of you are rolling your eyes right now at my attempt to “spiritualize” weight loss. Go ahead, I’ll join you. That’s another reason I’m reluctant to talk about this. Weight loss isn’t spiritual! Weight loss is worldly. God loves all shapes and sizes! He does! I’m with you, I am. And yet, I can’t deny what God taught me through this journey. About idols. About rebellion. About freedom. Those things are worth sharing.
Some of us feel the church doesn’t talk enough about our health. That the all-you-can-eat potluck is church sanctioned and overeating is overlooked. Some of us feel the church talks too much about health. That it’s become a new gospel – the church authorized diet. We have to be careful not to give food trends a holy cast…lets all get off sugar, or carbs, or let’s go vegan, or only coconut oil! Neither extreme is good. Food is like money. A helpful servant, but a horrible master. It’s something we must all manage to figure out every single day. And it’s been used by the world, the devil, and our own insecurities to enslave, distract, confuse and dishearten us. Being overweight does not automatically mean you love food more than Jesus. I never felt that it was sin when I had a few extra pounds. But I did feel discouraged. I felt hopeless. Do you?
For me, it was all about freedom. And the path to freedom included surrendering some long held, dug-in beliefs. I misunderstood real freedom. I dismissed any plan that would suggest any sort of restrictive eating. I thought they were crazy and unbalanced. Moderation in all things, right?
But I got to a point where I had to question everything. I was 49 years old and gaining. All my proud food assumptions were failing me. I decided maybe it just wasn’t possible for me to change any more. I was older. This is how life was. I thought, “Ok, I’m not happy about that, but I’ll accept it. I’ll live in this unfriendly place.”
A wiser woman than I once shared the following perspective. There’s a size or weight above which I am not free. I’m bound by thoughts of food and walking into my closet is a depressing exercise in how to camouflage and hide. There is also a size or weight below which I am not free. Staying that size requires too much focus and work. It takes the place of other things my life is meant to be full of, like friendships, family and ministry. There is a sweet spot, though. A place in the middle where I can feel relief from both extremes. Where I can stop thinking about food and size and weight and clothes and just get about the business of life. Here in this place I’m free. Free to work for the kingdom. Free from the distraction of this ridiculous preoccupation. Do you see how the Enemy of our souls uses the sizes of our bodies against us? We are so fixated on the external that we neglect the internal. We forget we are here to love God and love each other because we are too distracted by the frustration and shame we feel when we fail to live up to some random external standard generated largely by the media. I wonder if the holy women of the Bible worried about their outward appearance. I assumed they didn’t. But then I found a clue:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.”
1 Peter 3:3-5a
Look, ladies, the fact that Peter penned these words means this struggle for appearance is as old as Eve. If our ancient sisters had to be reminded that true beauty comes from inside, we are in good company needing the reminder as well.
Do you know the difference between guilt and shame? Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong, but shame is when you feel you are something wrong. How do you change when you feel you simply ARE wrong?
I longed for that place of freedom. Where I could stop caring so much about the external and focus on the internal. Where I didn’t feel trapped and sad and ashamed. Girls, now hear me well. Some of my answers came in the form of accepting myself and loving myself no matter what the package looked like. That’s important. Really important.
And some came as a challenge from God. He showed me it wasn’t about weight and food, it was about idols and rebellion. It was about the things I just knew I could never live without. Or the ones I vowed were too extreme or silly or lacked common sense. (No chocolate? No way!) I had to confront my petulant inner 13-year-old who was screaming, “I CAN EAT WHATEVER I WANT!” And when I turned that stone over, it was stone-cold pride I found.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”
1 Corinthians 6: 12-13a
The truth lies so often in the middle. It involves acceptance AND self-discipline. Love AND boundaries. The middle is often where freedom is found. God asked me, “Is there really anything worth clinging to more tightly than me? Is Chocolate worth it? Is your silly pride? You think you’re free but it’s that pride that binds you.”
Smacked with this reality I decided to open my hands and my mind. God led me to some women who had done the hard spiritual work of surrender and the hard physical work of keeping track and keeping accountable. And it was work. It was hard. But you know what? The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. God led me to the plan and the purpose and He helped me stick to it. And self-discipline produced freedom, as self-discipline nearly always does. It wasn’t about attaining a perfect ideal. It was about learning daily to walk in grace and obedience. To bow my proud head to saying no to some things, foods yes, but also attitudes and practices, and saying yes to others. To accept this particular season of my life. And that’s what it was. A season. It was also about the grace to try and fail, and try and fail, and try again. To give each new day a new chance. I heard one wise woman say, “I didn’t lose 50 pounds. I lost 1 pound, fifty times.”
We know that every happy ending is really just a snapshot in history. In this world constant change is the only constant. So any “victory” is just a point on the timeline. And when we backslide and return to old habits, that brings it’s own special form of shame. How do we maintain freedom? By abiding in the One who provided it and authors it daily.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
And by remembering true freedom is steeped in grace. A daily walk with Jesus is the only way to keep rebellion, idolatry and pride in check and in its place. This life can feel like slippery place. It’s so easy to get out of whack, lose perspective, lose our footing. But God is excellent at re-balancing us. He is gentle with us, and His presence is sweeter than chocolate.
What about you? Are you coddling some tightly held beliefs? Is God challenging thoughts you’ve long guarded? I was the only one standing in the way of my own freedom. What can you surrender to gain your own release?
“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8